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The Power of Minimalism
Finding Meaning with Less
This is an adapted blog of a script from an audio Podcast I am planning. I want to pivot away from politics for a minute. I want to talk a bit about the things we own and the idea of minimalism. As Conservatives we talk about being concerned about what negatives the culture is bringing to us and I think we need to have a two pronged conversation. One about rejecting woke capital, but another on cultivating value in our lives through meaning, one way to do this is by owning less. In about 2015 or so, I started feeling mentally and spiritually unwell by the amount of things that I had. I made some lifestyle changes that had a profound impact on my level of happiness by minimizing my suffering through ownership of things.
Buying things to offset Trauma
When I was very young my family did not have a lot of stuff. We were very frugal and lived modestly, I don’t remember much from this era in my life, just a few key memories that we had things but no more then we really needed. My father earned a very good job when I was about five or six, at which point our family moved and began a downwards spiral of ownership and spending. He wanted to ensure that we had good things and at the end of the day those things began to control him. I mean that when I say control him, because he had started to spend so much money that he had to finance and re-finance. If he's reading this I hope he isn’t upset I am writing about this. He didn't do anything wrong but there are lessons to be learnt from this.
Consumer culture told him he needed more stuff to be happy and as a kid, I of course, was more than willing to participate in this. The problem is that although my siblings and I got lots of stuff, the old stuff that we had we never learnt to repair properly or take care of. We didn’t value the items the way we should have. However we didn’t throw away or donate or sell old things properly either. I saw how it negatively affected my father and I saw how all this stuff negatively affected our family dynamic, we had so much stuff and it wasn’t stored properly that rooms in the house became almost unusable. Most of what was being purchased was barely getting any usage at all. My father and mother were just buying things for the sake of buying, the sake of wanting it. It accelerated even worse after it was revealed that my sibling has been repeatedly sexually abused by a family member not related by blood. I think my parents felt helpless, it got even worse after my mother told us she had cancer. My parents (mostly my father) were spending their way past these extremely traumatizing and stressful moments. It didn’t help that many people that we called friends and family abandoned us in our most needed time. We felt we were on an island. My father just worked harder and spent more money, what we needed was therapy and intensive psychological counselling. There is a moment of happiness when we receive something new however if those objects do not serve a definitive purpose or meaning the happiness is quickly lost. If it’s an object given during trauma it can even lead to negative trauma bonding with the object.
My father would later on have a major Spiritual evolution in his life. I think he learned that he wasn't looking for stuff. He was looking for connection. For him it was looking for spirituality. You know the Christians would say, filling the God shaped hole that we have in each of us. Having visited my father last year and seeing how he lives now, he does not have nearly the same number of objects that he used to have, I think that’s due to him finding what he was looking for.
A Journey Towards more with less.
It was about 2015 when I started to look at my own life, and I started to realize I was starting down a very similar path to my father. I was collecting a lot of stuff. These weren't things that I used on a regular basis. I would read a book and instead of donating it to a library or gifting it to someone telling them, “Hey, you know what, this book is amazing and everyone should read it” and make an effort in that regards. I just put it on a shelf. I found after a while I was buying more bookshelves and I was proud of my book collection that sat there having been read once or twice (I of course have my favorites I’ve read many times). It wasn’t just books though, it was DVD Collections, objects I had accumulated over the years, old trophies, old plaques, boxes full of pictures, trading cards, computer parts, clothes I hadn’t worn in years, lots of CD’s and more. Then when I went to move, of course all this stuff had to come with me then I’d have to unpack it
I was lucky I began to see that I was falling back into a pattern similar to my father. I was psychologically distressed by the amount of things I had, some things from when I was a child. Some objects I had unknowingly at the time trauma bonded with. It was all getting out of control as my life spiraled out of control and I had begun falling into depression. Not knowing what to do or where to go about this I did what most people do and went onto YouTube. I followed a few content creators but ultimately it drove me to watch a documentary. I watched a documentary on Minimalism with Ryan Nicodemus and the Joshua Millburn.
I watched it and I thought that I too wanted to live a more conscious life, living a life of meaning because you're not deriving meaning from things you're driving meaning from experiences. I started following them and I still follow them on Twitter and I still occasionally listen to their podcasts. In my online YouTube search I came across a truly fascinating video by the University of California looking into the lives of the average American Middle Class families and how they store things, the usage of space in the home and clutter. I realized that much of what was presented was similar to how my family had lived our lives growing up and I wanted to break that cycle. I have included it below and encourage people to give it a listen, you’ll learn so much about clutter and the North American lifestyle through it.
Building Meaning through Donation
I had the knowledge now and so it was time to put knowledge into action. I began by donating a lot of stuff to the local Women's shelter and Library. I donated a lot of books and local library. This began a volunteerism journey for me because I ended up joining the local library board because of it. Talking about finding meaning by donation, I dropped off one day I think it was 10 storage boxes full of books to the local library and the lady there said something like, “Oh my God”, because the books were in very good condition. She said this was going to take her months because she was just one lady and it's a small community. We got talking and then she said, “you know, we're looking for people for the library board.” So I ended up joining the library board as a volunteer and helping out for almost three years before I moved on. I just couldn’t commit to it anymore. The ladies on the board were very nice, I just wish they could find people that were younger then 80 To be on to be on the Library Board. It's very unfortunate. The topic of volunteerism is one that I could talk about in length with my own volunteer efforts but I'll put that off for another another article/podcast.
I was upset at one point about my donations to the Women’s shelter. I had donated a fair number of things, then I saw a bunch of them on the local buy and sell pages. People had taken these things and then decided they were going to pawn them off. When I first saw that stuff on the buy and sell page I wanted to message them and say I donated that to the shelter, what are you doing pawning them off. I then thought you know what, I've already let it go. I can't take ownership back of it. Now it's gone. I have to let it go so.
Learning by Letting Things go
As I was departing with old things I had run across two storage boxes of trading cards. My father was well known for collecting like baseball cards, hockey cards, Nascar trading cards and things like that. I was interested in them as a child but as an adult they sat in storage boxes untouched. At first I wanted to get rid of them by throwing them out, however I was worried I was going to end up tossing something actually valuable out. I decided that I would approach this more tactfully. I signed up for a site that valuates the worth of cards. I was looking at the site and I was asking how much are these cards worth? So then card valuating became a mini hobby for a little while a gain through minimalism. As I began to go through, I realized that some of the cards my father had were worth a little money. I didn’t want to keep them either so I decided I would give away the ones that were massed produced without big value and sell the ones that were worth some coin. I learnt there are entire forums and people who dedicate their entire lives to this hobby. I sold some cards and made a few hundred dollars. I learnt more about some Nascar players as well. I found value in donation as well. My friend is a huge Pittsburg Penguin fan so I gave him the rookie Sidney Crosby Card I had. I had a few rookie Jeff Gordon Cards I also donated to people I knew. I had this Batman Returns card set, although I was a big Batman fan for comics, the cards didn’t really provide me with value. I gifted away the set to someone and they really appreciated it because they were a huge Batman fan and that was a collectible item for them. I found meaning in donating and giving things away and I took up a mini hobby for a while where I learned a lot more about card collecting. Not enough to go to any of the conventions or go haggle but I definitely learned a few things that I think were valuable and gave me a baseline knowledge on the topic of card collecting. Again, that all came from just adopting a new mindset, adopting a minimalist mindset trying to find meaning in these objects.
Embracing Minimalism as a family
My spouse and I, we’ve had differing opinions on the value of things, when I started going hard into minimalism he was worried that I was suicidal because why was I getting rid of all of this stuff, what was the purpose? Over time, though, I think my spouse has adopted a very similar mentality to me, if only because my spouse really enjoys the aesthetic of cleanliness. He is high in orderliness. So once he agreed to adopt this mentality with me, he found joy in the orderliness of our lives. The things we do have that are on display, they're things that have meaning to them. Do we still have objects that are purely sentimental? Sure. We pick up knickknacks while travelling. For example we picked up some knickknacks when we were in Vegas, Kelowna and Peru. My spouse is a big Dragonball Z fan, so I picked up a nice set of Dragon Balls that sit on a nice display mount. Minimalism isn’t living with nothing.
These objects hold value because they were gifts/reminders of positive experiences and maybe one day they won't hold value anymore, then we will donate them. Whenever we go somewhere we try to find an object that we like that's going symbolize the intent of our trip, for example we picked something up from Vegas that wasn't very expensive, but it symbolized our trip. Eventually the item didn’t hold the same value. So we passed it on. Our relationship has grown stronger because we buy things with more purpose now. We collaborate more on purchasing and it is no longer if the object will look good in our house but we also ask if we really need it.
Choosing your Minimalism Guru
So I think if you're looking for meaning in your life, if you find yourself overwhelmed, and you just don't know where to start with minimalism, just expose yourself to a wide subset of minimalist content. You’ll find the people that resonate the best for you. For me it was Josh & Ryan. As well as another decluttering expert named Andrew Mellen. I love his interview below “Clutter is deferred decisions”.
There's an inordinate number of Minimalist personalities and “experts”. I'm not going to tell you who's the best or anything like that because you will find your tribe on your journey that matches your needs if you choose to make minimalism a lifestyle choice for you. There is extreme minimalism and I don't know if I would ever advocate for extreme minimalism because I think that to be an extreme minimalist you need to have a very certain mindset. I don't have that mindset. Extreme minimalism is not something I would recommend for most people. When you get rid of everything, but just the barest of essentials, in my opinion you become less of a minimalist and more what I would call an essentialist. That usually accompany a certain type of lifestyle behavior or lifestyle modification or change that will suit a very select number of people.
Rob Greenfield is one of those people. I follow him on YouTube and I apply his minimalist principles for when I go camping but that is his life on daily basis. Like many extreme minimalists, there is sort of this interesting competition you’ll see online of how few items can you get away with living with and still live with “comfort”.
Beyond Physical clutter
Most people think that minimalism is about reducing physical clutter, but it goes far beyond just your physical clutter. I don't use social media too much outside of Twitter and even Twitter is probably not good for my mental health because it’s an incredibly addictive and aggravating platform. When Elon Musk took over the platform I saw that I was following about 2300 people, and then I asked myself how many of these users am I actually interacting with? How many of my following list tweets do I just scroll by without interacting with at least a like?
I have developed a sort of three prong approach. I have my outer circle, big accounts I follow for updates on big topics, I have my inner circle of people I follow that I interact with often and I have my notification list of followers that I want to see what they post as soon as they post it. A fourth category, that can also end up in the other three categories of people, are users that interact with my tweets on a very regular basis. So I make a concerted effort to try to interact with them as well.
I use a program on occasion that for every single Twitter account that I follow that has not posted anything in I think I had originally set it to 90 days, it removes them from my following list. I got rid of easily 100 accounts the first time I used it. What value am I getting by following them if they're not going to be active on the platform?
Every now and then I go on to my followers list and I just randomly click one of them, especially if I don’t recognize them and I look at their posting habits and I think, “is this still lining with my values?” If it isn't, then I unfollow them. People unfollow me all the time and that is alright, maybe I’ll post something that brings them value again in the future, who knows? As an example I had a talk with my online friends from the Podcast Dangerous Rhetoric. We had done the live stream and we had talked about Religion and Christianity. I gave my thoughts on Christianity and I know some people didn't like it. I have a lot to say about the concept of the third Theological virtue of charity that people don't like to hear. I also have a lot to say about objectively measuring reality itself. So I had a few people unfollow me and that's alright. We need to cultivate our circles and prune our Twitter and overall our social media gardens. Minimalism isn’t simply removing physical clutter, it’s removing our digital clutter as well.
I don’t really use many other Social Media accounts, I’ve deleted most of them. I have a Tik Tok I haven’t accessed in months due to the addictive nature of that platform and I have a personal Facebook page. My Facebook account has about 100 people on it and I just keep my closest friends and family on there. That's it. I don't use my real name nor do I use a profile picture of myself. I'm on there to keep in touch with my close family and friends because my grandma is on Facebook now. Once my grandma is gone, and maybe my father’s gone Facebook's done for me, I'll be off that platform I have no use for it. It's nothing but a personal information aggregating machine for advertising. I don't feel like giving them any more information. I know someone whose got 1000 people on her Facebook. How many of those posts do she actually see, how many of them is she actually interacting with? Does she even remember, half the people on her Facebook page?
I think Social Media needs to be a topic taught in school now. We need to teach people healthy boundary setting on Social Media because it’s so new and so unregulated that people don’t realize that you can set boundaries on these platforms. If we did teach Social Media literacy then maybe we wouldn’t have so much cyber bullying and people might be less aggressive. I prune my limited social media accounts all the time and I encourage you to do the same. Ironically I am blocked by Mike Cernovich who talks about his Social Media strategy You know, I probably said something that he didn’t like, saw the tweet and blocked me, it doesn’t matter that’s his right.
Keeping a Tight Friend Group
I have five or six close friends that I believe I could confide anything too. They're pretty much family. In some cases, they're probably more family than my family and that's all I need. I don't need 50 friends whom I don’t know all that well. My spouse and I are very careful about who we let into our lives. If I ever felt like I couldn’t tell a friend something because I was afraid they would judge me or treat me differently they wouldn't be my friend. They would be an acquaintance. I’ve made lots of acquaintance through volunteering and in my workplace. These are people I see and talk with, we may have lunch together and if we do we'd have great conversations. They’re good people overall. That being said, I would be very unlikely to tell most of them, “Hey, why don't you come over?” Or “let's do barbecue at my place this Sunday.” One thing my spouse and I are very big on is keeping our friend circle tight. Last year, we had someone that we thought was a friend who betrayed us, they went behind our backs on something and really let us down. So we just told this person, “you really let us down. We can’t hang out anymore.” It wasn’t personal but as you might be seeing a pattern here, much of minimalism is about setting clear boundaries with others and yourself.
If you’re looking at minimizing and you have people in your friend group that are hurting you or you have someone like that in your life. It's probably time to let them go. If they don't bring any value to you and what they do bring is a net negative, you have a moral obligation to your happiness (happiness is the reduction/absence of suffering) to let them go.
Financial minimalism is probably one of the most difficult minimalism concepts. The last few years we've been getting back to a society of haves and have nots. As money gets tighter and as the government continues to expand, the public sector gets bigger, the tax bases get bigger and the private sector shrinks. We’re seeing more reliance on governmental aid. Financial minimalism is is a way to get things back on track. I'm no guru & I'm not gonna sit here and give you financial advice, I have my own financial issues that I think are pretty common to most people in North America. I’m working on it though. There's a lot of pressure to buy things. If you start getting rid of things and you start cultivating a life with more meaning you’ve got to be careful too, because you'll realize that you have more time for the things that matter and those things can sometimes be expensive hobbies. My spouse and I have been following Dave Ramsay’s get out of debt plan and it’s really helped us reduce our debts which has resulted in a much happier marriage.
Wrapping up my Thoughts on Minimalism
I have a lot more I can say on minimalism. I think it's a very expansive topic. I follow a few minimalists on twitter and YouTube. They have specific reasons like many of us do for their minimalist journeys. Minimalism is counter culture, it is pushing back against the narrative that happiness is found in items curated to you by carefully programmed algorithms. As Tyler Durdan said in Fight Club, “The things you own, end up owning you.” I think that many people, especially Conservatives are looking for meaning in their lives. For some people that meaning can be found with less things. I look at my own family and how much better things got for my father when he replaced having so many things with having Community, Religion and friendship. Minimalism can create more time for the things we really want to do, help us save more money for peace of mind and allow us to set boundaries by cultivating the Social Media conversations that we want to have. So I hope you found meaning in this article. What do you think? Let me know in the comment section!
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